When to Say No to a Cop
Right up front I'm going to say: It's easier for a white nurse than a black motorist to say no to a cop. Last weekend Alex Wubbels, a nurse at University University Hospital in Salt Lake City
refused a cop's orders to draw blood from an unconscious patient
. Wubbels had hospital policy on her side as well as her supervisor's support, and the cop still handcuffed her and tossed her in the back of a squad car until cooler heads prevailed.
She was right to say no to the officer's demands, and there has been an outpouring of support nationwide for her standing firm in the face of
It is much easier for a person in a position of relative privilege to refuse to comply with a cop's demands, and every person must gauge their own level of risk in interactions of cops-your safety is your number-one concern, and everyone must make their decisions accordingly. Nonetheless, there are some interactions with police when civilians are within their
1. When they ask for your consent to search your person, your car, or your home.
You may say no when a police officer asks to search you, your home, or your vehicle. Williamson, writing for Time , offers a common scenario: The officer asks to "take a look" inside your car. You do not have to give consent (in fact, it's likely better if you don't). He says, "You don't have to consent. After all, if they have probable cause or a warrant, they can search you without your consent." If they believe you have a weapon, they may pat you down.
2. When they ask you for more information than your name and your driver's license (and car registration and insurance, if you're pulled over).
If the cops ask you for your name and identification, give it to them. You don't need to say anything else, except to ask if you are free to go. (If they say yes, you should, in fact, leave. Walk, don't run, as Williamson stresses in this video he made for Business Insider .)
If you are being detained or arrested, don't say anything else. Don't try to explain yourself or what you were doing. "There's nothing good that can come of it," says Williamson.
3. When they ask you to do something illegal (a la Alex Wubbels).
"I thought the way she handled that was totally appropriate," said Williamson. That was an instance in which she was within her rights to refuse.
But this comes with a really big caveat: Williamson notes that there are scenarios in which the police might ask you to do something that you think is illegal but is, in fact, not. For example, you may believe you were unlawfully pulled over or that you don't need to comply with an order to get out of the car, as Sandra Bland apparently thought. (The police are permitted to ask you to step out of the car once you've been pulled over.) And even if you're correct that your rights are being violated, challenging police authority in the moment may not be the safest option.
Saying no to these requests might escalate the situation or prolong the encounter. "Your own safety should be paramount," he said. "Even with the nurse in Utah. That was a unique situation, and she was armed with the statute," but for the rest of us, if we're unsure, we would likely want to err on the side of complying.
4. When they try to ask you questions after you are under arrest.
The police are supposed to read you your Miranda rights, which inform you of your right to an attorney. The first thing you want to say, after you're placed under arrest, is that you want to speak to an attorney. After you've made that request, you do want to exercise your right to remain silent. Don't say anything . "Just don't answer at all," says Williamson. "It's amazing what they can do with one-word answers. Especially if they start asking factual questions, even a simple yes or no could get you in trouble-better to just stay silent." Do try to note to yourself the officer's name and badge number so that you're better prepared to pursue a complaint afterwards.
5. When they want to listen when you call your lawyer.
It is your right to speak to your lawyer privately. But if the police are listening, your lawyer should communicate with
6. When they ask your immigration status or if they ask you to sign something.
The ACLU has published some pointers on what to do if you're stopped by the police , and it's worth noting that you have constitutional rights regardless of immigration status: "You have the right to remain silent and do not have to discuss your immigration or citizenship status with police, immigration agents or any other officials. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country....If you are not a U.S. citizen and an immigration agent requests your immigration papers, you must show them if you have them with you. If you are over 18, carry your immigration documents with you at all times. If you do not have immigration papers, say you want to remain silent." Do not sign anything. For what to do if ICE agents come to your home, take a look at this information for immigrants .
The proliferation of cellphone cameras means that more citizens are aware of police brutality now than say, 15 years ago. Williamson notes that knowing your rights and staying calm and polite serves two purposes: "This is about understanding your rights [not only] so you can protect yourself, but so you can take action afterwards-so you can keep yourself safe and hold police officers accountable after the fact."